Southwestern Indiana's Catholic Community Newspaper

Exploring More Misconceptions About RCIA

By Father Jim Sauer


Another common misunderstanding (of the Right of Christian Initiation for Adults) is that “Everyone comes to the Church at the same time and is initiated at the same time.”


Nothing is further from the truth! 


Although we celebrated Pentecost weeks ago, three adults and three children have come forward at St. Matthew Parish who want to join the Church.  What are we to do?  Should we tell them, “Sorry folks, our ‘program’ doesn’t start until next fall (just like school)?!”  


That actually happened in a parish out West.  An unbaptized person knocked on a parish-office door asking about joining the church and was told that he had to come back in September when the next “Program” started.  That person never returned; he never felt the parish wanted him because of its lack of hospitality. 


Experience has proven that our parishes need a year-round RCIA because God never calls people on “our time,” but when people are open to God’s grace.  The ritual reminds us of this:  “The rite of initiation is suited to a spiritual journey of adults that varies according to the many forms of God’s grace, the free cooperation of the individuals, the action of the Church, and the circumstances of time and place” (par. 5).


Another misconception is, “Not every person who begins at the same time will necessarily be initiated into the church at the same time”because everyone grows in faith at a different pace.  We must be honest with people up front about this – it’s not a matter of “keeping up with the Jones's"; just focus on your own spiritual growth.  We need to meet with them often to ask them about their progress in prayer, change of outlook and behavior; how they are living the gospel; and the other expectations outlined in the ritual. 


And we need to point out areas where growth and change are needed.  This is a responsibility we should not take lightly if we want active Catholics following their spiritual formation.  Some individuals benefit from two years in the catechumenate.   The initiation process is also part of sacraments’ graces as they learn the building blocks that will help them live a life faithful in the Catholic Church.


Another misunderstanding is, “Everyone who joins the Catholic Church must go through all four stages of the RCIA.” We must remember that the RCIA was designed for the unbaptized – presuming they know little about Christ and have experienced no conversion to Him.  To accommodate the large number of baptized Christians from other denominations joining the Catholic Church, adaptations in the RCIA ritual were made allowing them to share in the catechesis and some of rituals.  However, we must be aware that just because someone has been baptized in any Christian tradition (Catholic included), that does not necessarily mean they have given their lives over to Christ.  Each person’s circumstances must be discerned individually.


John went to church faithfully for 45 years with his wife and helped her raise her children in the Catholic faith.  He also was involved in various Church activities.  But he just wasn’t ready to be baptized until he was a senior citizen. 


Now, If John had not “caught” the Christian Gospel by listening to 45 years of homilies and praying with the faithful each Sunday, do you think that a year in the catechumenate would have “converted” him to Christ?  In his circumstance, although he was not baptized, the priest was wise enough to present John to the Bishop during the Rite of Election and invite him to join the RCIA group during their Lenten period when they examined the depth of their commitment to Christ, celebrated the Scrutinies, and entered the Church through the Sacraments of Initiation on Holy Saturday.